Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Living your principles

Twenty years ago, Australia hosted a conference about pollution and climate change. In multiple venues relayed via video link, scientists met and discussed the implications of global warming. My flatmate, Marg, took me along to the evening, open session at the Dallas Brookes Hall.

Looking back over the distance of twenty years, it seems as if global warming has always been with us, always been an issue. And yet..... I can trace my knowledge to that evening. It was one of the bomb-shells dropped into my life that night. (The only other item I remember was the damage caused by dioxins in paper bleaching.) One day, I was in complete ignorance; the next... well, it was as if I'd been handed a live grenade to juggle and I didn't know what to do with it.

To be honest, I'm not sure many of us did back then. My own actions didn't seem to matter. The focus was about putting pressure on governments to face up to what was going to happen.

And yet, at the time I lived a fairly "green" lifestyle. I walked to work; I switched off the lights when I walked out of a room; I used the cold cycle to wash my clothes and hung them on a clothesline to dry. The one conscious change I made then was to buy unbleached, recycled paper products (why does anyone need toilet paper made from virgin wood pulp to wipe their bottom? Why??). I bought the "Green Consumer Guide" and read up about organic vegetables and cleaning products, then promptly forgot most of it and got on with the business of living.

Now, though, I wonder how I measure up. I wonder how far I've drifted from my first, passionately green principles.

We buy our vegetables from a local farmer, our meat from a butcher and the rest of our groceries from a supermarket. We live in your classic 1930's semi-detached house, which was last renovated in the 1970's. It has double glazed windows but needs cavity wall insulation. The central heating is old and hard to control (the boiler is on its last legs). I switch it off as early in the year as possible and rely on a the gas fire to warm the lounge in the evenings. We recycle glass, paper and plastic bottles. We wash and re-use plastic bags.

DH gets the bus to work. I drive long distances in a relatively low emission vehicle (the Toy clocks up 119 g/km).

(Note: For the best part of 10 years, I didn't have a car so took public transport to work. I only started driving to work when public transport became the more stressful option. If you've ever encountered London traffic, you're probably spluttering in shock by now but I had to go from South East London to West London at the mercy of 4 separate rail companies; to get to work required 3 changes of train and I was never sure, when I got to Paddington, from which platform my train would depart. Crawling passed the Elephant & Castle under my own steam was the more relaxing option. (If I worked up in London, I'd still go in by public transport, but working where I do - it's impractical both in time cost (I'd more than double my journey time) and in monetary cost (also double).) )

Oh, and for the record, I still wash my clothes in cold water and line dry them.

We're getting ready to do building work on the house. I daydream about photovoltic cells on the kitchen roof, a solar hot water system, and a small wind turbine attached to the chimney. The reality of our finances means that we will have to settle for more prosaic changes: the aforementioned cavity wall insulation; a new, energy-efficient boiler; a wood-fire stove to efficiently burn waste-wood and heat the house (added benefit - if the power goes out, we'll still have heating and cooking abilities). Maybe we should do a before-and-after green energy audit?

When I mention these things to colleagues/friends, some come back with the inevitable "Why bother?". I know that the actions DH and I take in our small corner of England don't have huge ramifications around the world. I know that they don't mean much ON THEIR OWN. But I also know that if EVERYONE makes "green" changes and cut down their food miles and their energy consumption, then perhaps we can make a difference. Every little action on my part does matter because it is the cumulative effect of all our actions that makes a difference.

Am I in a better or worse place than I was 20 years ago? I don't know. But I know that I won't stop trying.

- Pam (I'm getting this post in early for Earth Day.)

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